When British authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to bomb airliners travelling between the UK and US, I said that it would be safe to bet that we would soon see the Blair government standing up and arguing for a further erosion of human rights in the name of "protecting the public from terrorism". Sadly, I was right. According to the Independent, Home Secretary John Reid now wants to suspend the Human Rights Act in order to allow suspected terrorists to be interned - detained indefinitely without trial.
This would of course be a fundamental attack on justice, and on the principle in democratic societies that the government actually needs evidence to imprison someone. It would be handing the terrorists an enormous victory by rolling the legal clock back five hundred years to the days of absolute monarchy, when people could be detained indefinitely at the monarch's (now the Prime Minister's or Home Secretary's) pleasure. It might also be legally ineffective, unless the British government also derogates from the relevant parts of the ECHR or somehow contrives to deny terrorist suspects access to the European Court of Human Rights. But in addition to all of that, to paraphrase Talleyrand, it would not just be wrong - it would also be a mistake. I've argued before that the "war on terror" is a war of ideas, aimed at depriving terrorists of the recruits, funders, and passive supporters they need to function. Injustices such as torture and detention without trial are absolutely counterproductive to this. And the British know it. In 1971, they began interning suspected IRA terrorists. The result was a radicalisation of the Irish Nationalist community, more support for the IRA - and more terrorism. Unless the British government wants to see the same happen with its Muslim population (many of whom already feel unfairly targeted by anti-terrorism measures), then they would be wise to resist Reid's plan and instead focus on gathering evidence and prosecuting terrorists, rather than taking the "easy" path of arbitrary tyranny.